To Stay or to Leave

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These are my short answers to questions I have been asked repeatedly in recent times [around 1997-2000], and which I would never have expected to be raised in all seriousness until recently. I will be publishing further on the character of the Uniting Church, but meanwhile I think it important to encourage people to stay and not to consider leaving.

There is far too much that is good and true in this branch of the vine, in the life of the congregations and in faithful ministry, to justify abandonment of the church that has nurtured us, or which was formed by us in an act of faith to make more effective the commitments with which we began, or which we have chosen to join, but which has disappointed so many of us. Much of what we had hoped for at the time of union has been achieved in spite of the difficulties. If there is corruption, there is also much for which to be thankful.

In any case, the problems we face cannot be solved by moving around; and any kind of consumerism would only deny our beliefs about the nature of the church as catholic and the gospel as public truth. What is more, strategically, nothing would suit the faction which has come close to taking over the Church better than for the more conscientious of its members, who remain committed to the purpose of the union, to walk away from it and leave those with other loyalties in undisputed control.

There is much more to be considered in this regard and complex judgments to be made on strategic questions. Now that I have retired I do not intend to try to keep up with what is going on in the Synod and Assembly, and I believe that it is important that the day to day questions of what to do are addressed by younger people who are in "the active work"; where I am involved in a limited way, I do what I can to maintain the principles of openness, objectivity, and faithfulness to the apostolic witness we have received; and I will be willing to share my experience and knowledge of the church, where it can be helpful, when it is sought.

Let us try to keep things in perspective. As I have argued elsewhere, while advancement of homosexual interests and related factional concerns have had a distorting affect on the life of the church, tending to corrupt the normal processes of decision making, homosexuality is not the main problem, but rather the difficulties we face are the result of conformity or surrender to the dominant ideology of our secular liberal Western cultural elite in which ideological concerns have taken the place of traditional religion to provide powerful and sometimes oppressive guiding principles that shape much of our thinking.

There is much of what Freud called 'identification with the aggressor' in the response made by church people, and which others have interpreted as caused by envy of the power which sets limits on what we can expect to achieve, so that, if modernity is causing us trouble it appears that we must be more modern or progressive, and that leads to a reaction by others against modern ways which is no more helpful. We should not be concerned with how far or fast things we are moving, but with where we are heading. To allow the problems we face to be construed in terms of progressive versus conservative attitudes, in which opinions on matters like homosexuality are taken as signs of one's basic stance, is to play into the hands of the proponents of an anti-Christian ideology of human progress. To stay or to leave a church on grounds such as these is allow the aggressor's evaluation far more credence than it deserves.

Nor should we imagine that the church is alone as a victim of the current top-down ideological aggression. The same kind of destructive factionalism and pressure to conform has been experienced in other fields in the past twenty years or so, including literary criticism and the study of English in general, expressive and creative arts, the women's movement, aboriginal affairs, aspects of education and sociology, and indeed much of the faculty of arts, humanities or social sciences, in any university is likely to have experienced something the same sort. See, for example, an article by Robert Manne Why Australia's cultural orthodoxy must be resisted which I have copied in regard to newspaper bias in my Discussion of Public Affairs. It is a widespread cultural phenomenon and no one will escape its influence, positive or negative, by changing institutional loyalty, though you might well feel more comfortable for a while, until you wake up, if you do, to the different ways in which it has influenced alternative institutions.

The sad thing is that the Uniting Church, officially, though not in its regular congregations for the most part, has become so strongly identified with the aggressor. That is clearly seen by external observers who are aware of the type of cultural distortion that has been fostered by the elites in many fields, and the church which might have been a significant Australian source of independent ideas has lost credibility, both with those to whom its leaders submit and with their critics. However, people are waking up, both in the church and at many other points in Western society: "There's got to be a morning after, if only we can hold on through the night".

See also the paper on Tolerance.

[I believe that the situation late in 2003 is different and may well justify a different answer. DB Oct 2003]

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